False ETS advertising

Several weeks ago, you may have seen a six-foot-tall cigarette walking around campus, handing out candy and spreading lies. The cigarette was part of a national "Kick Butts Day," sponsored locally by the Fred Hutchinson Research Center. For the past two years, the Research Center has been supplying SPU students who are trying to quit smoking with free nicotine replacement materials to see if it would cause more students to quit.

This is fine with me. If SPU wants to let the Fred Hutchinson Research Center help students quit smoking with free Nicorette, I have no problem with that. However, I do have a problem when SPU allows them to come on campus and distribute false information among our students.

In the material handed out was candy and propaganda that spoke of the dangers of secondhand smoke. The only problem is, there isn’t a single study that has been done that proves there is significant danger in secondhand smoke – the notion is a media embellishment that has been picked up and pushed along by the public, like finding needles in Coca-Cola bottles or razor blades in caramel apples on Halloween.

Halfway down a page titled "Celebrate Kick Butts Day" that was handed out to SPU students, the following is stated: "ETS [environmental tobacco smoke, commonly referred to as secondhand smoke] is the third leading cause of preventable death in the U.S., claiming the lives of more than 53,000 nonsmokers." Curious about the statistic, I checked into the source they provided, www.bigtobaccosucks.com. Although there was no statistics that talked about the dangers of ETS in the site, I did find a list of resources with information about deaths due to tobacco smoking each year.

At first glance, the documents all seemed to state the same thing about ETS — that it kills people. However, after reading the documents carefully, I noticed a couple of things. First of all, almost all refer to each other as sources. Many reports are analyses based off other analyses, rather than having their own research and testing. Another thing I noticed is that there is a clear chain among the sources of the reports, tracing back to two major studies.

Big Tobacco Sucks led me to three other sources: a secondhand smoke fact sheet by the Center for Disease Control (CDC), a MMWR (Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report), also from the CDC, and a 1998 study by the World Health Organization.

The secondhand smoke fact sheet from the CDC (http://www.cdc.gov) referred to several other documents as a basis for its death estimate of 38,000 ETS-related deaths per year. One was a 1999 study by the National Cancer Institute, the other was a 1992 report by the Environmental Protection Agency. These make up the two core documents that all the others are based off of.

Both the MMWR by the CDC and the National Cancer Institute study (entitled "Smoking and tobacco control monograph 10," 1999) were projections of the number of deaths due to ETS, and both worked the same way. They tallied up all the deaths of non-smokers who died of lung cancer or ischemic heart disease and had contact with secondhand smoke. In other words, anyone who died of lung cancer or heart disease who had a spouse that smoked, worked in a smoking environment, lived in an apartment building that allowed smoking, or went to bars or clubs that allowed smoking was added to the count. Based on this alone, with no scientific evidence to prove a connection between ETS exposure and the actual cause of death, the CDC decided that 38,000 Americans die annually due to ETS and the NCI projected a whopping 40,000 to 80,000!

Both of the above projections justify their claims by saying that the aforementioned 1992 EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) report proves that ETS causes lung cancer. This is the study that led to the whole secondhand smoke scare, and was used as a basis for passing all the clean air laws. It was the first report that declared secondhand smoke as a class-A carcinogen, and claimed to prove that there were 3,000 American lung cancer deaths every year due to it. However, the EPA study (entitled "Respiratory Health Effects of Passive Smoking: Lung Cancer and Other Disorders") was vacated — declared legally null and void — by a federal court in 1998. The court case, which was a lawsuit between every major tobacco company and the EPA, was presided over by Judge Osteen, who said in his conclusion that the "EPA publicly committed to a conclusion before research had begun … adjusted established procedure and scientific norms to validate the Agency’s public conclusion and aggressively used the Act’s authority to disseminate findings to establish a de facto regulatory scheme intended to restrict Plaintiffs, products, and to influence public opinion." In other words, the EPA made up the study’s results in an effort to hurt the tobacco industry.

The largest study on the effects of ETS was conducted by the World Health Organization (WHO) in 1998. The study tracked over 2,000 people in seven European countries over a seven year period. When WHO issued a press release of the study, they labeled it, "Passive smoking does cause lung cancer, do not let them fool you." However, if one reads the actual study, their conclusion is this: "Our results indicate no association between childhood exposure to ETS and lung cancer risk. We did find weak evidence of a dose-response relationship between risk of lung cancer and exposure to spousal and workplace ETS." Although, they admit that even the weak link they found was "not statistically significant." (WHO, "Multicenter case-control study of exposure to ETS and lung cancer in Europe.")

In all my research, I found a lot of bad projections, a falsified study and a study that found that ETS risks were not statistically significant. But, I didn’t find any evidence that showed a clear link between ETS exposure and cancer. In the words of Penn Jillette, in his Showtime documentary program, Bullshit!, "Not one study anywhere offers conclusive proof that breathing in secondhand smoke causes cancer."

The Fred Hutchinson Research Center conducts cancer research. They should know better than I do that there’s no scientific connection between secondhand smoke and cancer. Shame on them for lying to us. Furthermore, shame on whoever invited them to spread their lies at SPU.

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Title: False ETS advertising | Author: Colin MacGregor | Section: Opinions | Published Date: 2005-04-27 | Internal ID: 4496